Enjoying the fruits of the orchard

PEOPLE who call to The Apple Farm in the heartland of Tipperary to purchase fresh fruit and juices are vital to the revenue buoyancy of the business.

Most of the customers are from the region which has an apple growing tradition going back 150 years.

But others are passing motorists, who swing off the busy Cahir to Clonmel road at Moorstown, knowing that their taste buds will be tickled with a wide choice including pears, plums, sweet cherries, strawberries and raspberries, as well as apples.

Apple and mixed juices from other fruits are also produced, and a licence has now been sought to manufacture cider.

Produce from The Apple Farm, where there is also an award-winning camping and caravan park, has acquired a reputation for freshness and quality over the years.

It is also boosting the local economy with a total of 12 people employed permanently and another 10 part-time.

Con Traas, who runs the farm, has an agricultural science degree and a master’s degree in horticulture from University College Dublin, and lectures part time on plant science at the University of Limerick.

In the 1960s, Con’s family — who had been growing fruit in Holland since the 1800s — moved to Ireland. His parents, Willem and Ali, had found it difficult to find new land in the Netherlands for fruit-growing.

They looked at a number of farms in Ireland, and decided on the one where The Apple Farm is now located, 6km from Cahir and 9km from Clonmel.

There was an old orchard on the farm, and they judged by the good crop they saw on these trees that apples could be grown in the area.

For the first few years, as well as establishing new apple and plum orchards, the family grew tulips, dried peas, grain crops, and strawberries.

Because there was no structure to enable them to sell their fruit locally, they opened a shop at the farm in the early 1970s.

The same barn is being used today to sell most of what they produce from 45 acres of fruit. A further 17 acres is used for beef production and growing miscanthus.

Some 60 varieties of apples are now grown on the farm, and about 15 types are available in the farm shop depending on when they ripen. Four varieties of strawberries, three of raspberry, four of cherry, three types of plums, and two of pears complement the range.

Some of the strawberries are available as pick-your-own in the middle of summer.

In addition, juices have been made on the farm since 1995. There is apple juice and mixed juices from other fruits.

Con said the growth of the business exceeded expectations. Most of the fruit and juices are sold direct to customers who call to the farm.

Marks and Spencer take a small proportion of one apple variety in a particular size for its shops in Ireland and cooking apples are supplied to bakeries.

The Apple Farm was chosen as the Bord Bia 2010 best Irish fruit producer and was also awarded the international apple juice prize at the 2005 British National Fruit Show.

But these and numerous other awards are not confined to the fruit and juices. The camping and caravan site has also received many accolades.

Con said the fully serviced site, which has its own tennis court, was recently voted the best three-star park in Ireland by visitors to sites countrywide. It caters for up to 60 people per night.

As part of The Apple Farm’s welcoming ethos, people receive a bottle of award-winning apple juice as they settle in.

Meanwhile, this year’s fruit growing season looks good, despite a late start. This was due to cold weather, but the trees were not damaged.

“There is a good crop of apples coming,” said Con. “They will be a bit late. The strawberries are excellent and the raspberries are good as well. Overall, there is a good crop of fruit.”

The Apple Farm has a mailing list of 2,000 people in Tipperary and adjoining counties.

Indeed, the numbers of people who visit the farm each year to buy their fruit and juices direct has grown and so has consumer demand for more fruit varieties and flavours.

Asked about any future plans for extending the product range, Con said he would like more of the traditional varieties of apples, and some great new types.

“I would love to make cider and even apple brandy, but for the moment I am quite busy with what we have,” he said.

* www.theapplefarm.com

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